Warring Matabele ant soldiers 'retrive injured from battlefield'

Warring Matabele ant soldiers 'retrive injured from battlefield'

When the battle is done the victors head home, their march broken only to gather the wounded, who are hauled back to base for life-saving treatment.

That's when these ants showcase qualities of friendship and care.

It is an unprecedented glimpse of nursing in nature, a programmed behaviour that significantly reduces deaths in the ant colony.

It is the first time, say scientists, that insects have been found to demonstrate "highly effective organised social wound treatment". "We have anecdotal observations of wound care in other animals, but none that have been studied scientifically".

Matabele ants (Megaponera analis) live unsafe lives. The ants swarm termite feeding grounds in armies of between 200 and 600 soldiers. He said the ants literally lick the wounds of their nestmates to help them heal.

The raids are rarely without casualties on the ant side. They are equipped with strong jaws that can injure and kill Matabele ants. During these risky hunts, some of the ants lose legs or antennas, and some die.

They're skilled raiders, sending out columns of several hundred ants to attack termite nests and drag termite corpses back to their own nests for a feast. They noticed that ants returning from a hunt performed a swift triage on any casualties they encountered.

German researchers made the discovery after studying violent clashes between the ants and termites in Comoe National Park, Cote d'Ivoire. "The other ant grabs it with its mandibles". "We don't know if they are just removing dirt from the wound or applying an antimicrobial substance to fight off an infection". How do they know when to stop dressing the wounds?

At least 80% of the ants not catered to in this manner eventually die from the wounds that were inflicted on them.


In the study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B on February 14, researchers said the wounded ants sent out a distress signal by excreting chemicals that alerted the other soldier ants.

Interestingly, researchers found that more than 95 percent of the ants that were brought back to the nest recover and were even able to participate in subsequent raids.

Dr Frank said it's unclear exactly how this licking helps.

The scientists believe a simple rule governs which damaged ants are saved in nature. From here, it can release pheromones to call for help.

About four or five ants gather around an injured ant and take turns to lick the wounded leg for two to three minutes at a time.

They simply don't cooperate with the helpers and are left behind as a result, Dr Frank added. "It's very simple, but it enables the ants to triage the injured".

Either way, the behavior is exciting to see because it's extremely rare to observe any individual animal treating another's wounds in any species, Frank said.

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